Martin Sanne - Towards The 4th Industrial Revolution


New and emerging technologies are fundamentally changing our world in ways previously unimaginable. Technology driven innovation has always caused business models to go extinct. Some companies couldn’t evolve and went out of business while others adapted, seized opportunities and thrived by taking advantage of the new environment. What’s different today is that technology is advancing at a pace never
experienced before in human history, and the pace will only increase.

Disruptive change enabled by emerging technologies is happening in the global manufacturing sector as much as (if not more than) in any other sector. This discontinuity with the past presents a threat as manufacturing firms that do not adapt quickly to this wave of change will not survive. On the other hand, firms that prepare for and embrace the new opportunities can become global players and grow exponentially.

Specific technologies that have potential to fundamentally change the nature of business, work and society include: cloud technology, big data, predictive analytics, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, mixed
reality, agile robots, collaborative industrial robots, robotic exoskeletons, 3D printing / additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, bio-based materials, nanocoating, selfhealing materials, biosensors, 5G, wearable electronics, LIFI and the Internet of Things.

Such disruptive technologies will change the nature of manufacturing at industry and firm level. Some of the expected changes include the widespread adoption of:
  1. Opportunities to extensively package services with products
  2. Sources of information on how products are used and age, drawing on embedded sensors and open data
  3. Becoming a ‘factory less’ goods producer capturing value by selling technological know-how and leaving physical production to others
  4. Remanufacturing end of life products to original specifications or better
  5. Creating value from new alliances within and between sectors
  6. Exploiting new technologies more rapidly
Another element to be aware of and respond to is that of catalytic innovations; defined as innovations that have potential to fundamentally change society. Catalytic innovations from the past include photography, automotives, electricity, airplanes and telephones.

In the last century, industrial business models were defined by their use of machines to create increasing returns to scale. New products are currently being manufactured and new industries are being created which will create new jobs and factories that do not even exist today. This shift in thinking and manufacturing defines new rules of competition and ways of manufacturing. Failing to embrace or scale this
shift will lead to current industries becoming absolute by 2025.

Advanced Manufacturing as a Catalyst for Re-industrialisation
Advanced Manufacturing has a particularly important role to play in re-industrialisation and the creation of decent, well-paying jobs. Competitive advantage is increasingly dependent on combining new knowledge and improved technologies rather than the traditional factors of production like labour, materials and energy. While there is a perception that advanced manufacturing has a negative impact on jobs, international experience suggests the opposite.

A World Economic Forum (WEF) newsletter states that while technology is often blamed for unemployment, in practice jobs were not disappearing but evolving – job losses in one sector often mean gains in another. It is also well known that manufacturing activity is associated with good economic multipliers and an International Finance Corporation study has also shown that the job multiplier effect rises as the manufacturing becomes more sophisticated, from about two for traditional manufacturing to 15 for the most
advanced forms of manufacturing.

This correlation is reflected in a study which concludes that the SA economy can grow by 1.1% higher than the current estimates and create 3.4 million new jobs by 2030, led by a globally competitive hub of Advanced Manufacturing. It is estimated that Advanced Manufacturing can add R 540 billion to SA’s GDP and create 1.5 million new jobs by 2030.

Key imperatives to achieve this growth include the need for manufacturing businesses to focus on achieving greater economies of scale through aggressively pursuing export opportunities and to become more innovative in materials, products and manufacturing processes. The need for increased investments in research and development and tighter and more collaborative networks is also seen as critically important. 

For more information contact: